When I was growing up, our family would take summer road trips to different parts of the country. Stuffed into our “woody” station wagon, I and my three siblings would vie for a seat next to a window. Unfortunately, my younger brother and sister would often have to sit in the middle because my older brother and I had seniority. Most commonly heard in our station wagon were these laments, “He touched me!” “Tell her to stop singing,” “I’m hungry,” and “Are we there yet?”
I still hear these words, “Are we there yet?” as I interact virtually with a variety of people on a daily basis. Like you, I’m tired of the Pandemic, and I can’t seem to get used to the new normal, whatever that is. I spend hours every day sitting in front of my computer, either writing or participating in an endless stream of Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings that threaten to turn me into a zombie.
It’s not always easy to be motivated in this liminal time. We recognize our own anxiety, are not able to fully focus on our work, and the littlest things can set us off. At the same time, we are all wondering about the future of The United Methodist Church and are asking the same questions, “What’s happening? Will General Conference be postponed again? When is COVID going to end? Why aren’t we there yet?”
I have noticed over the past two years of COVID-19 that many of us have struggled with our own mental health. That includes me as well. We have had to isolate from others, work from home, wear masks, worship over Zoom, and refrain from being physically near others. I am especially concerned about the toll that COVID-19 has taken on our children and youth. I am deeply grateful for our teachers: for the ways in which they have had to pivot in order to teach virtually, and also for being aware of the emotional and relational needs of their students.
COVID has changed us and our world forever. Never could I have imagined that we would enter a third year of fighting COVID infections. As the highly contagious Omicron variant continues to sweep through our country, we recognize that over 800,000 American lives and millions of other lives around the globe have been lost.
Clergy and laity alike have had to reinvent themselves in ministry. Let me give a “shout out” to our pastors! Just as teachers have had to completely change their normal protocols, pastors have also had to learn how to provide pastoral care, worship, and teaching remotely. Forty years ago, none of that would have been possible. So, how do we cope in such a time as this? How do we live fully, serve faithfully, and innovate creatively when it’s a struggle at times to simply get out of bed?
At the same time as vaccines are quickly created to fight COVID variants, we are also experiencing the resilience of the human spirit around every turn. Merriam-Webster defines resilience as “the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens.” Another definition of resilience is “the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, or bent.”
Frank M. Snowden, who is Andrew Downey Orrick Professor Emeritus of History and History of Medicine at Yale University, is the author of Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present. Having studied pandemics for forty years, Snowden is convinced that Covid-19 was not a random event. He said, “People talk about the return to normality, and I don’t think that is going to happen.” Last spring, as Snowden was inundated with people wanting to know more about COVID-19 pandemics, Snowden himself was diagnosed with COVID-19.
No, we’re not almost there. There will be many more infections, and there will very likely be more variants. We cannot totally control COVID, but what we can do is become more resilient. The University of Michigan has published suggestions for well-being as students cope and practice resilience during COVID-19. The Well-Being diagram below is described this way. “Well-being is the journey we take, one step and one choice at a time, to care for ourselves. It’s how we appraise and feel about our lives, including success in school and all other aspects. It’s personal, family and friends, community, and beyond.”
Specific tips for students include:
- Name how you are feeling.
- Stress: show grace to yourself. Stress uses up a lot of energy.
- Be kind to others. These are difficult times.
- Keep connected. Stay in touch with family members, friends and colleagues regularly.
- Mourn what you have to give up.
- Engage in regular physical exercise.
- Get enough sleep.
- Practice meditation and mindfulness.
- Avoid the traps of alcohol, drugs, and unhealthy relationships.
- Don’t overdose on news and give social media a rest.
- Manage screen time.
- Discern what a new normal would look like and create a schedule for yourself.
- Don’t binge.
- Reach out to others. Make a difference.
I am also intrigued by a new model for dealing with stress that is helping high school students in Dubuque, Iowa cope with COVID-19. It’s called “brain health retreat rooms.” If students are feeling overwhelmed or anxious during school, they are able to leave class and go to a set apart room. There are different areas in these retreat rooms, one of which is targeted for students experiencing high levels of stress. In this room, there are chairs that surround a student like a cocoon and enable them to feel safe and loved. There is also an area where students can meet with counselors and enjoy snacks.
Are we there yet? No, but we’re getting there. The first step is caring for ourselves. By God’s grace and by walking beside each other (masked, of course!), we can become resilient and create a new normal for our world.